Make way for the Dallas Stars. They’re doing a steady march up the Western Conference standings all the way from 14th a couple of months ago.
For a while it didn’t look as though it was going to materialize. Dragged down by key injuries to Brenden Morrow, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen and Steve Ott, the Stars were slow out of the starting gate. It didn’t help the team had to deal with the baggage of high maintenance Sean Avery and the sub-standard goaltending of Marty Turco.
For the longest time, the Stars were the western equivalent of the Ottawa Senators. They were a multi-talented team desperately in need of a tune-up. Dallas was expected to challenge the San Jose Sharks for the division title in the Pacific and do no worse than fourth in the conference, like we predicted in The Hockey News Yearbook.
After a 10-2 thumping of the Rangers Friday night, the Stars have gained points in eight of 10 games (7-2-1) to jump to the top of a 10-team logjam separating fifth place from 14th in the conference, an amazing separation of just six points.
So what has turned the season around for the Stars?
It’s too easy to say they’ve gotten some players back from injury.
And it’s far too easy to say getting rid of dressing-room bacteria Avery was the answer, although that certainly didn’t hurt. The Stars won just eight of 23 games with potty-mouthed Avery in the lineup. Since severing ties with him, Dallas has won 18 of 28 games. If the Stars keep winning at that post-Avery pace, they’ll approach 100 points and finish fourth or fifth in the conference.
But the real reason for the Dallas turnaround is the return to form of Turco.
There was a long stretch in October and November when Turco had the worst save percentage among regular NHL stoppers. Since December, he has been among the hottest, right up there with Tim Thomas and Steve Mason. Turco’s save percentage still isn’t among the league’s top 40, but he has been typically exceptional in close games and at key moments.
And that will carry the Stars a long way in the final third of the season.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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